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My name is Mark Benham, I’m head of Real Estate at Lester Aldridge.  I advise regional and national housebuilders (and the occasional landowner) on land promotion, acquisition and development, including advising providers of later living housing and housing with care.  Outside of work, my passion is music – whether it’s watching a new live act at a small local venue, enjoying music new and old on BBC 6 Music or compiling a playlist on Spotify to share with friends and colleagues.

There is a clear synergy between community assets, including live music venues, and the creation of new housing.  In July 2023, Joanna Averley, chief planner at The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, reminded the planning authorities that they “have an important role in identifying and protecting local grassroots music venues in their area from the effects of new development”, referring them to the requirements in the NPPF regarding the provision of suitable mitigation measures.  She also flagged how the Music Venue Trust (which describes itself as being like the National Trust of music venues) can offer support to planning authorities when consulting on applications.

Independent music venues are the lifeblood of the music industry here in the UK, breathing life into our towns and cities as part of the “night-time economy”.  Sadly, 2023 was the UK’s worst year for music venue closures, according to the Music Venue Trust, with 125 grassroots music venues closing over 12 months.  Without Government support, the sad reality is that the number of venues will continue to shrink.

Our next guest is development advocate and expert, and music fan, Sian Griffiths.

 

Sian griffiths how music interview with mark benham    Sian griffiths house music mark benham

 

Sian is a dual-qualified chartered town planner and chartered surveyor based in Worcestershire. She worked in-house, both in local government and in industry, before joining RCA Regeneration in 2009.

Known for her witty commentary on nimbyism and how it is reported, Sian has more letters after her name than I’ve listened to Beatles albums.  A woman of many talents, she advises her developer clients on land promotion, planning applications and appeals.  You may also find her appearing as an expert witness or running a consultation.  Or nipping over to Las Vegas for an immersive, once-in-a-lifetime gig.  Let’s find out more…

Mark: What is your favourite venue for live music?

Sian: I don’t have one – somewhere close to home is always ideal. I saw U2 at The Sphere last October, which was pretty special, but it was a long way to go.  But I’m perfectly happy at The O2 Academy in Birmingham if it’s a band or artist I love. Getting a comfy seat at Symphony Hall (Birmingham) is also quite good now that I’m getting old. 

Mark: If you could require one landowner in the UK to do more to facilitate housing growth in the UK, which landowner would it be?

Sian: Just one?? That’s not fair, I could think of quite a few!!  The Crown Estate in that case.

Mark: What was the first, and most recent, music gig/concert that you attended?

Sian:  My first gig was The Inspiral Carpets at the Newport Centre when I was 14. The last one was the Smashing Pumpkins at the Utilita Arena in Birmingham and before that U2 at The Sphere.

Mark: You are appointed the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities for one week.  You are given the power to make immediate legislative changes to ensure more houses are built.  What is the first change you would make?

Sian: Take Green Belt out of the Footnote 7 list in the Framework.  Those Green Belt authorities with a severe shortage of housing should be stepping up. And that doesn’t mean a total free-for-all, because the inevitable speculative development proposals would also need to be sustainable and subject to the usual design and other technical considerations that non-GB development is subject to.    

Mark: What band or artist is your dream headline act, who would be the support act and where would the gig be?

Sian: Oh, probably The Smashing Pumpkins (I finally saw them last month) and I’d choose The Breeders as the support act, just to watch them play Cannonball again – everyone goes completely crazy.

The venue would be my front room – I have very comfy sofas and Billy Corgan, Kim Deal and I could sit and have a nice cup of tea and some custard creams afterwards. 

Mark: Week two as Secretary of State and the PM tells you to implement an unconventional housing policy inspired by a successful policy or project from another jurisdiction.  What policy would you adopt?

Sian: Probably something like a policy requiring an element of co-housing in large strategic housing allocations as part of the affordable housing offer.

It could be for specific groups of people (the LGBTQ+ community, the over 65s) or it could just provide a mix of housing options for older and younger people to live together and support one another. It sounds a bit ‘knit-your-own-yoghurt’, but as a form of managed housing, there are clear social coherency benefits in reducing loneliness and providing a more instant ‘community’ feel that some new developments can take years to develop in mainstream housing. 

I think we are behind the curve on this in the UK. Mainland Europe has been doing it successfully for longer.

Mark: If you could sum up the state of housebuilding in the UK by reference to a song, what song would it be?

Sian: Won’t get fooled again, by The Who.

It’s a bit of a song of protest and revolution and I think we are on the verge of a major change. I’m certainly hopeful for a major revolution in planning and housing.

And the combination of the rhythmic, reverberating organ solo by Pete Townshend punctuated by Keith Moon’s drumming and the primal scream of Roger Daltrey is hairs on the back of the neck stuff.

Mark: What housing scheme or project that you have been involved in are you the proudest of?

Sian: A scheme I took to an appeal hearing years ago in the Green Belt for 8 supported living apartments for young adults with Autistic Spectrum Disorder. 

It should have never been refused and I cried for about an hour when the appeal decision came through because I’d got to know some of the parents of the people that would be living there, and I knew what it meant to them.  It looks great and I drive past it frequently.

Mark: What is your favourite album?  Name the first that comes into your mind.

Sian: Music for Men by Gossip. Mainly because it’s one of few albums where I can comfortably say I love every single song on it.

Mark: What is the most entertaining and memorable inquiry or hearing you have taken part in?

Sian: Probably an inquiry I did for Essex Council a couple of years ago defending their position on a large, unauthorised Gypsy and Traveller site. It was fascinating and entertaining in equal measure, and not because of the appellants themselves, who I must say conducted themselves with dignity.  Up until that point, I was more used to housing inquiries, which as it turns out are far more sedate and straightforward affairs.  

Many thanks to Sian for joining us. Our next episode will be landing next month – sign up to be notified when episodes are published here.

If you need further advice about any of your real estate requirements, please contact Mark via email at mark.benham@la-law.com.